District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray said Friday he supports increasing the city's minimum wage to $10 an hour, setting up a possible showdown with the D.C. Council over pay for low-wage workers.
A council committee is scheduled to vote Monday on a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, one of the highest in the nation. Suburban Montgomery and Prince George's counties are considering the same wage.
Earlier this year, the Democratic mayor and the council sparred over a bill that would have forced Wal-Mart and other large retailers to pay their employees a "living wage" of at least $12.50 an hour. The council approved the bill but fell one vote short of overriding a mayoral veto. Wal-Mart had pledged not to build three of its six planned stores in the city if the bill became law.
Gray's letter does not say whether he would veto an $11.50 minimum wage if the bill reaches his desk. Democratic Councilmember Vincent Orange, a lead sponsor of the Wal-Mart bill and the minimum wage legislation, said he's confident his proposal has broad support.
The full council could vote on the wage bill as soon as next month. It would increase the city's minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by July 2016, with future increases tied to the Consumer Price Index to account for inflation.
The district's current minimum wage is $8.25, $1 higher than the federal minimum.
Gray proposed increasing the minimum wage to $10 immediately and eliminating automatic future increases. The mayor plans to hire an outside consultant to study the long-term impacts of minimum wage increases in the city, particularly those tied to inflation, and he urged the council in his letter to await the results of that study.
"District policy makers should not proceed with automatic increases without knowing the impact on the district's labor market," Gray wrote. He also said automatic increases could lead to the city losing jobs to Maryland and Virginia.
Orange, one of four Democratic councilmembers who are running for mayor, said the council had already done sufficient analysis for the bill to move forward.
"If the mayor was interested in a study, he should have done that a long time ago,'' Orange said Friday evening. "I view this as another delaying technique. His rhetoric does not reconcile with his actions."
Gray has not decided whether to seek a second term. Federal prosecutors have been investigating his 2010 campaign for most of his nearly 3 years in office, and four campaign aides have pleaded guilty to felonies.
San Francisco has the nation's highest minimum wage at $10.74, with Santa Fe, N.M., just 2 cents behind. Because increases in those wages are tied to inflation, San Francisco is projected to have an $11.22 minimum wage by 2016, according to the National Employment Law Project.
The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has also recommended a $10 minimum wage for the district, to be phased in over a 3-year period, with future increases tied to the CPI. Chamber president Barbara Lang, a Gray supporter, wrote that a more dramatic wage hike "could kill jobs and make businesses think twice about operating in the district.''